Chromium Picolinate
June 1996

History and Overview
Chromium is a relative newcomer to the recognized list of essential nutrients. In 1948, it was identified as an important component of plant and animal tissue, but it was not until 1977 that it was considered an essential nutrient.

The importance of chromium in human diets has been recognized only in the past 20 years. There is much to learn about this mineral, but chromium deficiency may be related to both diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Dr. Gary Evans of Nutrition 21, the manufacturer of chromium picolinate, was a former nutrition scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dr. Evans discovered that picolinic acid could bind tightly to trace minerals such as chromium. He believed that combination of the two substances could possibly expedite absorption and nutritional efficiency. In response to a request from Nutrition 21, Dr. Evans created chromium picolinate. After testing the substance in laboratory rats, he concluded that it was “far better absorbed and retained than inorganic chromium.” The U.S. Department of Commerce later gave Nutrition 21 the exclusive license to produce and market chromium picolinate.

Dr. Walter Mertz has also conducted research with chromium and dietary yeasts. He identified the compound that binds insulin to cell membranes and helps to regulate normal blood sugar metabolism. He named this compound Glucose Tolerance Factor or GTF. It was Dr. Mertz’s theory that the combined effectiveness of chromium and niacin complexes are as effective as the GTF extracts from brewer's yeast, the richest known source of chromium in nature. The chromium-niacin product uses a patented “oxygen coordinated” complex and claims to be 300 percent more effective than chromium picolinate. Scientific acceptance of this claim has yet to be substantiated.

Nutrient Composition and Function of Chromium
Chromium is generally accepted as an essential nutrient that plays an important role in insulin action and thus influences carbohydrate, lipid, and protein metabolism. The specific biochemical function of chromium has not yet been clearly defined; that is the chemical nature of the relationship between chromium and insulin function has not been identified.

The most studied function of chromium is in relation to the maintenance of normal cell glucose uptake. Chromium’s function as a Glucose Tolerance Factor remains controversial, but it has been suggested that GTF-chromium helps to form a connection between insulin and insulin receptors that facilitate insulin-tissue interaction. Chromium, as found in brewer’s yeast and in some other naturally occurring and synthetic complexes, appears to be effective in stimulating glucose metabolism.

Chromium picolinate is a combination of biologically active trivalent chromium and picolinic acid. (Trivalent chromium is the biologically active form of chromium.) In fact, it is considered an isomer of nicotinic acid, and because of its structure, can form strong ties to chromium and other transition metals.

Chromium Picolinate is not believed to occur in nature and therefore is not recognized as an essential compound that will cause deficiency if it is absent from the diet. However, chromium picolinate’s role is thought to be similar to other forms of chromium such as that found in brewer's yeast.

Purported Dietary Relationship of Chromium
The importance of chromium in human diets has been recognized only in the past 20 years. There is much to learn about this mineral, but low levels of chromium may be related to both diabetes and coronary heart disease.

In both animals and man, a chromium deficiency is characterized by impaired glucose tolerance and elevated serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Chromium deficiency appears most commonly in infants maintained strictly on breast milk whose mothers do not take a nutritional supplement, in children who are malnourished, and in the elderly. Since sensitive measures of chromium status are not available, marginal chromium deficiencies may go undetected.

There is very little data regarding chromium values of foods. What we do know is that egg yolks, whole grains such as bran, yeast, and meats are good sources. The ultimate chromium level in foods is closely tied to the local soil content of chromium. Due to the many diverse locations of farms, it makes it difficult to arrive at food averages.

Summary of Research
There is some preliminary research regarding chromium picolinate and the following studies published between 1992 and 1994 offer some insight. However, published scientific peer-reviewed studies are rare. Most of the published materials appearing in the marketplace have been written by Dr. Gary Evans, who first produced the product, and Dr. Walter Mertz.
  • Chromium supplementation has been shown to lower total cholesterol and triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol, according to a study published in the Western Journal of Medicine in 1990. In another study, when chromium was combined with niacin (Vitamin B3), blood cholesterol was lowered more significantly than with chromium alone. This study was published in the Journal of Family Practice in 1988.

  • Triglyceride levels were reduced in a crossover study of 14 men and 16 women who had non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Each subject was randomly assigned to take chromium picolinate or a placebo (sugar pill). This was followed by a 2 month washout period. Subjects were then crossed over and received an alternate capsule for 2 months. The results indicate that there are positive short-term changes associated with the use of chromium picolinate but long-term studies are needed to see if changes are sustained.

  • Chromium picolinate has been purported to increase muscle mass and decrease adipose (fatty) tissue (an added benefit according to its patent holders). Scientific research has yet to confirm these benefits and there are some studies which refute this claim all together.

  • Chromium picolinate supplements (200mcg/day) were taken for nine weeks by football players. The supplements were ineffective in bringing about changes in body composition or strength during a program of intensive weight training.

  • Fifty-nine beginning weight training college students took either a placebo or 200mcg chromium picolinate per day over a 12-week period. All groups had significant changes in body circumference and decrease in skinfold thickness. The authors concluded that chromium picolinate supplementation had a greater effect on females than males. These positive results are believed to be the result of the weight training rather than the use of chromium picolinate.
In conclusion, the claims that chromium products burn fat or build muscle mass appear to be lacking, while knowledge of its role in carbohydrate metabolism and blood sugar or insulin regulation continues to grow.

Safety & Toxicity
The Estimated Safe and Adequate Daily Dietary Intake (ESADDI) of chromium for adults is 50-200mcg Under the NLEA (Nutrition Labeling & Education Act) an RDI (Reference Daily Intakes) of 120mcg has recently been established. This amount is higher than the current estimated 25-35mcg average daily dietary intake in North America.

Trivalent chromium appears to have such a low order of toxicity that effects from excessive intake do not often occur. Chromium becomes toxic only in extremely high amounts, and it acts first as a gastric irritant rather than as a toxic element. Dr. Anderson, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, believes chromium toxicity is very low. Chromium might be deposited in the liver and kidneys, but amounts of up to 300 micrograms per day are considered safe as a supplement.

Chromium toxicity has been reported in people exposed to industrial waste and in painters using art supplies with very high chromium content. (This form of chromium is significantly different than the chromium found in nutritional supplements.) This over exposure may result in liver damage and lung cancer.

Some Recent Quotes on Chromium From the Experts

"It's virtually impossible to get enough chromium from food. You have to eat 3,000-4,000 calories per day to get even 50 micrograms. To get the recommended 120 micrograms, you must eat more than 7,200 calories a day."
-The U.S. Department of Agriculture

"I call chromium the 'geriatric nutrient' because every body starts to really need it past age thirty-five."
-Dr. Gary Evans Bemidji State University, Minnesota

"Without enough chromium, excesses of insulin and glucose (sugar) can build up in your blood, exposing you to diabetes, heart disease, and other symptoms of premature aging."
-Jean Carper in Stop Aging Now!

NEW! The Latest Research NEW!

According to an exciting new study released in June, 1996 by John Anderson, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is now very strong evidence that chromium picolinate may help to normalize glucose and insulin levels in diabetics. In this study, presented to the American Diabetes Association, chromium was tested in 180 people in China with Type II (adult onset) diabetes. Scientists have been aware of chromium deficiency in diabetics for years, but this time they boosted doses from the standard 200 micrograms to 1,000 micrograms daily in this study, and found these higher doses did normalize glucose and insulin levels in the participants. "We've been doing chromium studies for 20 years and never saw anything this spectacular," said Anderson. The findings do not mean chromium can cure diabetes, and Anderson urges more research. However, he does state "If you take people in the general population with slightly elevated blood sugar and give them chromium supplements, you'll see a drop in blood sugar in 80 to 90 percent of them."

In summary, scientists know that chromium is necessary for our muscles to function properly. It appears to be involved in the transfer of sugar from the bloodstream to muscle cells, thereby giving them the fuel they need to work. Chromium is also involved in maintaining cholesterol and triglyceride levels. If someone suffers from a deficiency, taking a chromium supplement may eliminate symptoms associated with the deficiency. Research is currently being conducted to confirm that extra chromium will build new muscle, act as a fat burner, or aid in weight loss.

The bottom line seems to be that if you have a diet low in chromium or you feel you may benefit from chromium supplementation, talk to your local health professional. If you are in a high risk category for diabetes (adult-onset, not juvenile-onset) a health professional can best monitor you and document any results. Remember though, dietary control and management of blood sugar levels are still the best first steps in any program.
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